Americans United gets numerous messages from our adoring fans in the Religious Right, many of which are of the snail mail variety. Some of our biggest admirers take it upon themselves to send us little cartoon pamphlets promising damnation if we don’t change our evil ways.
These evangelistic brochures tackle a range of topics, including gay rights, evolution, abortion and the supposedly satanic nature of Halloween. Given the quirkiness of the cartoons, we tacked some of them up on a wall outside an AU’s staffer’s office.
These pamphlets, known as “Chick Tracts,” were created and published by a fundamentalist evangelist named Jack Chick. Chick died last week at the age of 92 and he will be missed – mainly by some of the people who send us mail.
The "Chick Tracts" in AU's office.
In a career that spanned 50 years, Chick created more than 250 tracts that reached as many as 800 million people, according to ComicsAlliance. Over the years, these comics were distributed almost everywhere – from libraries and bus stops to the windshields of parked cars. Chick’s devotees practiced an unusual form of evangelism. They often left the tracts lying around in public places, hoping someone would find them.
“I went to church and saw all the deadness and hypocrisy, and I thought, ‘That’s why there’s no revival.’ So I started making these little sketches,” Chick once said. “My burden was so heavy to wake Christians up to pray for revival.”
In one of Chick’s obituaries, Religion News Service reported that the Los Angeles-born cartoonist enjoyed drawing from an early age – but didn’t come to evangelism until he married his wife, whom he met through acting classes at a Pasadena, Calif., playhouse. Reportedly too shy to evangelize people by approaching them directly, he decided he could use cartoons to achieve his goal of saving souls.
Chick, who drew some of the early cartoons himself before hiring another artist in the 1970s, said he was inspired in the early 1960s by a 19th-century religious revivalist tome called Power From On High. That makes sense, given that most of his ideas were firmly planted in the past. As former Americans United staffer Sarah Jones noted in a blog post for the New Republic, Chick stirred up fears about feminism, LGBTQ rights and evolution. He was also virulently anti-Catholic.
“Catholics? They've eaten the infamous Death Cookie and are doomed to hell,” Jones said of Chick’s views on that group.
Sadly, a few of Chick’s more radical ideas persist in some fundamentalist Christian circles. Among his most dangerous opinions: AIDS is a punishment from God for sinful behavior.
Despite the nature and sheer volume of Chick’s works, the one-time aspiring actor earned mixed reviews even from other Christians.
“[Chick was] one of God’s most infamous trolls,” said Christian author Matthew Paul Turner.
RNS said some consider Chick’s work to be a form of folk art. But others, like Jones, view him as a relic of a puritanical era that is receding by the year into America’s rearview mirror.
“His tracts therefore provide an interesting perspective on conservative Protestantism’s American mutations: Chick once arguably sat within the movement’s mainstream, only to live long enough to see it leave him behind,” Jones wrote.
Here at AU, we’ll keep Chick’s tracts on our wall. I suspect his fans will honor his memory by sending us a few more in the days to come.